During the past decade, Perry Township has become a global community.
Students from more than 60 countries attend its schools. Refugees from the Chin population in Myanmar have made the southside township their home. Organizations recognize everything from German to Indian to Hispanic culture.
And for one weekend, local residents can experience the food, dance, music and other unique aspects of the community.
The Perry Cultural Festival will celebrate the diversity of the southside and Greenwood during a special festival Saturday. Now in its second year, the festival has grown to include a more expansive variety of activities, arts and attractions.
“We want to make sure our community continues to be a welcoming area for all people. We want to celebrate our differences but always recognize that we’re far more alike than we are different,” said Jo Ellen Buffie, co-chair of the event.
By welcoming the melting pot, Perry Township made itself richer and more well-rounded, festival organizers say.
Significant segments of the current population have come from other countries. Currently, 21.5 percent of students in Perry Township Schools identify as Asian, 14 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino and 6.5 percent identify as African American.
“I like to say that Perry Township welcomes well. We welcome families who moved here, and the word spread and more families have come,” Buffie said. “We embraced them as a school system and a community.”
The festival is a chance to recognize that.
When the festival started in 2015, it was envisioned by local business leaders as a way to celebrate the diversity of Perry Township. Buffie, a board member at the Baxter YMCA who had created diversity programs in the past, attended a meeting of initial organizers and offered to chair the event.
Her co-chair, Southport park board president Marylynne Winslow, started working to put the festival together.
“It was small, but we considered it a success before it even started because of so many community people coming together,” Buffie said.
This year, they made some small adjustments to ensure a larger, more comprehensive look at diversity. Organizers have officially partnered with Perry Township schools and the YMCA to maximize buy-in from the community.
The date of the festival has been moved from July to April, so that schools are still in session and will be more likely to participate. Students from Clinton Young Elementary School will created a banner that visitors to the festival can help decorate.
The Spotlight Singers from Douglas MacArthur Elementary School will perform multicultural music. An art show, essays and poems have also been planned. Flags from each country represented in Perry Township schools will be presented during the festival, Buffie said.
“We wanted to not only have diverse representation of culture in our entertainment, but then to bring a diverse audience,” Buffie said. “That’s what we were missing last year.”
Performers will come from the schools, as well as the University of Indianapolis, presenting Indian and Chin dance. German, Slavic and Hispanic music will all be featured by local community groups.
“When you have professional entertainers, you don’t bring people with them. There’s no investment,” Winslow said.
Organizers have also reached out to a wide range of local groups to help add unique elements to the festival.
Girls Rock! Indianapolis will bring a selection of instruments for people to try out as part of their musical playground. Food from around the globe will allow people to sample different flavors and dishes that they normally wouldn’t.
Kids will get a passport that will be stamped at each activity. If the kids get 10 stamps, they’ll be entered in a drawing for a bicycle.
The Indy Eleven, the city’s professional soccer team, is sponsoring a soccer tournament played at locations around Perry Township.
The growth of the festival is exciting to organizers, who see the community as a whole showing interest in the event.
Many churches, schools, civic organizations and other groups have banded together to volunteer at the festival. With so many different facets participating, it speaks to the commitment that Perry Township has to celebrating and welcoming people to the southside, Winslow said.
“The collaboration says a lot about how this is important to the southside,” she said. “That’s what has been the most encouraging.”
Perry Cultural Festival
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Baxter YMCA, 7900 S. Shelby St., Indianapolis
What: A celebration of the diverse cultures in Perry Township.
Activities: Live music, kids zone, cultural entertainment, craft vendors, cultural food vendors and a soccer tournament.